More Action, Less Organized Discussion
More Action, Less Organized Discussion
Steven L. Doran
I was inspired to write this article based on a conversation I had with a friend who works for a secret facility. He called me and was at his wits end because he could never get anything done. He had identified the problems and even had a solution to them. But he was bogged down with processes that made his life unbearable. The dreaded meeting.
A curious fact about American private business, police agencies, the US government and the military institutions is, in the early 21st century they began to hold formal meetings to deal with issues that were once dealt with on a supervisor to subordinate level.
The practice is curious because these same institutions spend a great deal of time and effort studying “good management,” which they should recognize what most participants in such meetings see, namely that they are a waste of time to almost all that attend.
Good decisions are a product of a supervisor or employee identifying a problem, which is then reviewed by the person in charge of the area and changes are made, by means of a memorandum or direct contact to only those involved in the issue. Others are not burdened by having to listen to problems and issues that do not concern them or their section.
History offers a useful illustration. The conference of Versailles in 1919 was all business according to its participants, or was it. Its Its product, the Treaty of Versailles, was so flawed that it spawned another great European war in just twenty years. As Kaiser Wilhelm II said from exile in Holland, the war to end war yielded a peace to end all peace.
What then was the problem? People sitting for hours on end in meetings discussing issues that mainly pertained to someone else. Most persons became board and their only thought was to get out and get back to work on their own problems. They basically said nothing or agreed to everything.
Even if issues were brought to light. The meetings droned on and there was no action plan developed to correct the problem. It would be addressed in a hap hazard manner doomed to failure over time.
The American institutions have carried the formal meeting’s uselessness to a new height with its new electronic tools. To add even more grief to the party the PowerPoint brief and the conference or video conference call.
Almost all institutions have these meetings for their managers and employees. A lofty presentation meant to impress the boss, with charts, graphs, photos and funny cartoons to wake everyone up.
Does it strike anyone as unusual that non related information has to be added to get peoples attention; they know that the material is so boring and tedious they have to add jokes or insert outrages photos into the presentation to wake people up.
These same people in attendance are desperately striving to keep their eyelids open through yet another dissertation on issues they are more than familiar with. The meeting format was devised to conceal a lack of substance.
The meeting is more of a study on how to stir up the pot and hopefully the scum will float away. Typically this way of doing business only produces more issues, which results in more meetings, which results in more problems.
Meetings make every issue brought to light of equal importance, which prevents any logic to solve these issues and keep other problems from developing.
Issues are presented like a farmer sowing seeds in the field, spread by the handful over the field. After several hundred issues are presented, the brains of all in attendance are reduced to mush and they are even more stressed than before the meeting began. Most are quietly praying for a natural disaster or a bomb threat to provide some diversion and end their ordeal.
A good leader will forbid meetings to encompass more than a brief dissemination of information usually the information is positive and it is the solution to a specific problem. The meeting does not regurgitate what people are already aware of. The personnel are, limited to what they can say during these discussions. All other issues are addressed through the chain of command via memo and brief conversation with the persons involved.
No one participates in any of the above mentioned unless they are intimately familiar with the issues involved. This saves a tremendous amount of time trying to explain things to persons who have no knowledge or nothing to do with the issues at hand. It keeps questions from being raised that do not pertain to fixing the problem.
Why does the American institution require formal meetings? We believe if we are going to pay managers then they better have all of the answers.
Typically because of their work load in other areas managers know little or nothing about how to fix the problem because they are plagued with other more pressing issues that keep them out of the loop.
However because they are responsible for their section they must Know every detail of what is happening beneath them. For the most part they do not. They do not have time to stay in communication with everyone under their control consistently.
So how do we solve this? It is a simple process known as chain of command. When I was in charge of a vast organization I broke down the organization in to divisions or regions, each region had sections, each section had teams.
No one except the executive staff had contact with more than 10 people at a time. 10 officers reported to a line supervisor who had the authority and responsibility to handle the day to day activity of those persons.
If it was an issue that required a decision of someone with higher authority it was brought to the attention of his superior in person or in writing and so on.
No other persons were allowed to get involved on any level impeding the solution to the issue. At no time was an individual issue brought up in a meeting. It was kept in the chain of command and solved at that level. If a line supervisor or his superior would not use their authority to solve the problem they were replaced. It was not a pass the buck system.
Line supervisors submitted a report to their division chiefs, who took the information and condensed it and sent it to the regional manager, who in turn condensed it and sent it to the section head, and so on.
I then received a report from all of the section heads. Each report only contained information that pertained to the next person up the chain. As an example I did not need to know that an officer put in for vacation. I did need to know if someone was in the process of being terminated.
The same was true for a regional manager he did need to know if someone was on vacation but did not need to know that a line supervisor received a request from an officer for help on a specific assignment. The main reason the information was condensed is because as it went up the chain the managers were responsible for a larger group of people.
After using this process for three months it was amazing how much time we had to improve our operation in areas that benefited those we served. We also saw who was productive and who was not.It also allowed more time for the persons farther up the chain to meet and speak with persons at lower levels keeping them in touch with what was going on in the day to day operations.
We assigned floaters who were able to travel to different parts of the county when persons in the region would be gone for an extended period of time due to illness or vacations etc. This was to keep the flow of information going and to insure that no region fell behind in their responsibility.
Because we all used the same system, everyone could fill everyone else’s shoes. No one used a double super secret system to get their job done.If someone had a tool that helped everyone else be more productive in their area. That issue was presented in a meeting. Again only the persons who would benefit from that knowledge were invited. And it was not conducted as a meeting but as training. It was to the point and was typically done over lunch. The addition of food was always helpful.
Time is something that continues to pass us by it has to be used wisely.
Copyright © 2009 by Steven L. Doran
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